The title may be reminiscent of Boots Riley’s 2018 indie horror comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” and both films start with a man, desperate for money, taking a job that seems to have lots of strings attached. But the craziness of Riley’s film is definitely not in the works for veteran British director Ken Loach, who brings his characteristic quiet fury to the grim tale of an out-of-work laborer discovering the perils of the gig economy
Like most of Loach’s films, “Sorry We Missed You” is about the plight of the British working class, which in the director’s filmography is under constant assault from larger forces — sometimes the forces of government, sometimes the forces of commerce, sometimes a brutal mixture that serves to batter and dehumanize the average worker.
While his new film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2019, is timely in the way it exposes how making workers “their own boss” can simply be one more means of exploitation, it takes Loach’s usual concerns and paints them in broad, thick strokes; it’s occasionally an understated character study, more often a blunt and angry polemic about the ways in which good people can be beaten down. This is the kind of movie in which the camera moves down a working-class street, and the dog who’s being walked only has three legs.
In other words, it is not a subtle film, and its bluntness is occasionally potent but just as often wearying. Less than four years after Loach won Cannes’ Palme d’Or for “I, Daniel Blake,” it’s hard to find too much that’s fresh about Loach’s new film, no matter how effective a polemic it may sometimes be.
As usual for Loach, the protagonist is a working-class man struggling to get by. In this case, it’s Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a father of two who is drowning in debt and out of work when he’s offered a position as a delivery driver. The catch, which is presented as an opportunity by his new boss, is that he won’t be an employee — he’ll be self-employed, which puts him on the hook for all sorts of potentially debilitating financial and personal consequences.
Ricky’s wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) is similarly overburdened in her job as a caregiver for the elderly and infirm; together, the two can barely find the time to be with their own children, a troubled teen graffiti artist and a young girl traumatized by what’s happening to her family.
As always with Loach, the performances feel natural and lived-in, even when things around them get a little preachy. (An old woman proudly showing off her scrapbook from the 1984 miners’ strike is a particularly Loachian interlude.)
But while the heart of “I, Daniel Blake” was in the affecting performances by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, Hitchen and Honeywood are game but have a hard time registering as much more than symbols of how brutalized the working class is – though she cuts through the increasingly melodramatic tone of the film with a profane and thoroughly crowd-pleasing diatribe.
Loach works effectively in this arena, and “Sorry We Missed You” is certainly timely in the era of worldwide economic uncertainly and of the rise of outfits like Uber. It struggles, though, to feel as though it’s anything but a veteran director going over familiar turf without finding anything particularly new to say.